This Day in U.S. Military History…… May 12

12 May
1689 – King William’s War, the North American theater of The War of the Grand Alliance, begins. William III of England joins the League of Augsburg starting a war with France. It was the first of six colonial wars (see the four French and Indian Wars, Father Rale’s War and Father Le Loutre’s War) fought between New France and New England along with their respective Native allies before France ceded all of its remaining mainland territories in North America in 1763. For King William’s War, neither England nor France thought of weakening their position in Europe to support the war effort in North America. New France and the Wabanaki Confederacy were able to thwart New England expansion into Acadia, whose border New France defined as the Kennebec River in southern Maine. According to the terms of the Treaty of Ryswick, the boundaries and outposts of New France, New England, and New York remained substantially unchanged.
1700 – The Royal Governor, Earl of Bellomont, presides over the annual muster of New York City’s militia. Following English law, each spring all of the American colonies held a muster of the men enrolled in a city or county’s militia. This gathering allowed for an accounting, inspection and some form of training. For those men living in the cities, this usually was a one day affair as they often had meetings during the course of the year to train at a squad or company level. However, for those men living in the country-side or in small villages, the muster days were perhaps the only chance to gather the men of a said unit together in one place at one time, so their muster sometimes lasted several days before being dismissed. At this time most men were still expected to furnish their own arms and equipment, though some colonies started to acquire old arms from Europe to supply the poorer members unable to afford weapons. There were few men in any uniform unless their commander (usually the wealthiest man in the region) furnished some article of clothing to give uniformity to “his” men. At about this time, again following the English pattern, the individual companies would start to carry their own flags, known as “colors” to give their men some form of unity and esprit. These also served a practical value in combat, as they were quite large and easy to see through gunpowder smoke, serving as a rally point on the battlefield. While some men found their muster either an annoyance, taking them away from the farms or shops, others saw it as a ‘lark’, a time to get with buddies and party, as became the custom all too often. However, some men took their military obligation seriously and began organizing themselves into what soon became the first uniformed volunteer militia, for the most part the forerunners of the modern National Guard. Units such as Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Boston, chartered in 1638, held drills on at least a monthly basis. This allowed its men to train and prepare for war much more thoroughly than just a day to two once a year could enable them. Soon these units began adopting uniform dress and customs, all of which helped to form a rabble into an army.
1780 – Charleston, SC, fell to the British in the US Revolutionary War. The Battle of Charleston was one of the major battles which took place towards the end of the American Revolutionary War, after the British began to shift their strategic focus towards the American Southern Colonies. After about six weeks of siege, Continental Army Major General Benjamin Lincoln surrendered forces numbering about 5,000 to the British. Three Continental Navy frigates (Boston, Providence, and Ranger) were captured; and one American frigate (Queen of France) was sunk to prevent capture. In late 1779, following strategic failures earlier in the war, the British were stymied by the waiting strategy adopted by General George Washington leading the Continental Army. Under political pressure to deliver victory, British leaders turned to launching their “southern strategy” for winning the war, that built on the idea that there was strong Loyalist sentiment supporting the southern colonies. Their opening move was the Capture of Savannah, Georgia in December 1778. After repulsing a siege and assault on Savannah by a combined Franco-American force in October 1779, the British planned an attack on Charleston, South Carolina which they intended to use as a base for further operations in the north. The British government instructed Sir Henry Clinton to head a combined military and naval expedition southward. He evacuated Newport, Rhode Island, on October 25, 1779, and left New York City in command of Hessian General Wilhelm von Knyphausen. In December, he sailed with 8,500 troops to join Colonel Mark Prevost at Savannah. Charles Cornwallis accompanied him, and later Lord Rawdon joined him with an additional force, raising the size of the expedition to around 14,000 troops and 90 ships. Marching upon Charleston via James Island, Clinton cut off the city from relief, and began a siege on April 1. Skirmishes at Monck’s Corner and Lenud’s Ferry in April and early May scattered troops on the outskirts of the siege area. Benjamin Lincoln held a council of war, and was advised by de Laumoy to surrender given the inadequate fortifications. Clinton compelled Lincoln to surrender on May 12. The loss of the city and its 5,000 troops was a serious blow to the American cause. It was the largest surrender of an American armed force until the 1862 surrender of Union forces at Harper’s Ferry during the Antietam Campaign. The last remaining Continental Army troops were driven from South Carolina consequent to the May 29 Battle of Waxhaws. General Clinton returned to New York City in June, leaving Cornwallis in command with instructions to also reduce North Carolina.
1789 – The Society of St. Tammany was formed by Revolutionary War soldiers. It later became an infamous group of NYC political bosses.
1797 – George Washington addressed the Delaware chiefs and stated: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and to humbly implore his protection and favor.”
1814 – Robert Treat Paine (83), US judge (signed Declaration of Ind), died.
1820 – Florence Nightingale, Crimean War nurse known as “Lady with the Lamp,” was born in Florence, Italy. She is also known as the founder of modern nursing
1851 – A treaty was signed on the south bank of the Kaweah River, the site of John Wood’s grave. Woods was killed by Yokut Indians. The California Tule River War ended.
1862 – Federal troops occupied Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
1863 – With a victory at the Battle of Raymond, Mississippi, Grant closed in on Vicksburg. Two divisions of James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps (ACW) turn the left wing of Confederate General John C. Pemberton’s defensive line on Fourteen Mile Creek, opening up the interior of Mississippi to the Union Army during the Vicksburg Campaign.
1864 – Close-range firing and hand-to-hand combat at Spotsylvania Court House, Virginia, result in one of the most brutal battles of the Civil War. After the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6), Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee raced respective Union and Confederate forces southward. Grant aimed his army a dozen miles southeast of the Wilderness, toward the critical crossroads of Spotsylvania Court House. Sensing Grant’s plan, Lee sent part of his army on a furious night march to secure the road junction before the Union soldiers got there. The Confederates soon constructed a five-mile long system of entrenchments in the shape of an inverted U. On May 10, Grant began to attack Lee’s position at Spotsylvania. After achieving a temporary breakthrough at the Rebel center, Grant was convinced that a weakness existed there, as the bend of the Confederate line dispersed their fire. At dawn on May 12, Union General Winfield Scott Hancock’s troops emerged from the fog and overran the Rebel trenches, taking nearly 3,000 prisoners and more than a dozen cannons. While the Yankees erupted in celebration, the Confederates counterattacked and began to drive the Federals back. The battle raged for over 20 hours along the center of the Confederate line—the top of the inverted U—which became known as the “Bloody Angle.” Lee’s men eventually constructed a second line of defense behind the original Rebel trenches, and fighting ceased just before dawn on May 13. Around the Bloody Angle, the dead lay five deep, and bodies had to be moved from the trenches to make room for the living. The action around Spotsylvania shocked even the grizzled veterans of the two great armies. Said one officer, “I never expect to be fully believed when I tell what I saw of the horrors of Spotsylvania.” And yet the battle was not done; the armies slugged it out for another week. In spite of his losses, Grant persisted, writing to General Henry Halleck in Washington, “I will fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”
1864 – Battle of Todd’s Tavern, VA (Sheridan’s Raid).
1864 – Union General Benjamin Butler attacked Drewry’s Bluff on the James River.
1864 – Boat expedition under Acting Lieutenant William Budd, U.S.S. Somerset, transported a detachment of troops to Apalachicola, Florida, to disperse a Confederate force thought to be in the vicinity. After disembarking the troops, Budd and his launches discovered a body of Confederate sailors embarking on a boat expedition, and after a brief exchange succeeded in driving them into the town and capturing their boats and supplies. The Confederates, led by Lieutenant Gift, CSN, had planned to capture U.S.S. Adela.
1865 – The last land action of the Civil War was fought at Palmito Ranch in Texas. The Battle of Palmito Ranch is generally reckoned as the final battle of the American Civil War, being the last engagement of any significance, involving casualties. The battle was fought on the banks of the Rio Grande, east of Brownsville, Texas, and a few miles from the seaport of Los Brazos de Santiago (now known as Matamoros). Union and Confederate forces in Southern Texas had been observing an unofficial truce, when Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett ordered an attack on an enemy camp near Fort Brown, for reasons unknown. (Some claimed that Barrett was eager for his first chance of action before the war ended.) Although they took some prisoners, the attack was repulsed the next day by Confederate Col. John Salmon Ford near Palmito Ranch, and the battle is claimed as a Confederate victory. Estimates of casualties are not dependable, but Union Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana is believed to have been the last combat death of the war. The engagement is also known as the Battle of Palmito Hill or the Battle of Palmetto Ranch.
1902 – By the dawn of the twentieth century, trouble was clearly brewing in the nation’s coal mines. Indeed, miners had long toiled in foul conditions for paltry pay; moreover, managers often forced workers to rent space in company houses and to purchase items at company-owned stores. Duly fed up with these conditions, miners across the country held a number of strikes during the later years of the nineteenth century. The mine companies, now largely run by America’s imperious rail barons, steadfastly ignored their workers’ pleas. The situation came to something of a boil on this day in 1902, as union chief John Mitchell raised the call for a nationwide strike; 140,000 members of the United Mine Workers heeded his charge. The ensuing strike dragged on for five months, as mine owners, firmly anticipating that the Federal government would rush to their side, smugly refused to acknowledge the coal union, or to enter negotiations. Meanwhile, coal prices skyrocketed, fraying the public’s collective nerves and inciting calls for the government to negotiate a settlement. Though the Constitution didn’t sanction intervention by the White House, President Teddy Roosevelt grew impatient and stepped in to speed up the negotiations. The mine owners rebuffed these efforts, prompting the president to threaten to hand control of the mines to the Army. Roosevelt’s gambit proved effective and the mine owners finally sat down for a serious round of negotiations. By October of 1902, the strikers had returned to work and a newly formed Commission of Arbitration had kicked off a probe into the conditions at the nation’s mines. That following spring, the Commission handed down its findings, which included recommendations of pay hikes and reduced hours for workers, and that mine owners recognize the coal union.
1917 – General John Pershing is appointed commander of the American Expeditionary Force, which is being formed to fight on the Western Front. It will take time to increase the strength of the US Army, but Pershing expects the number to reach one million by May 1918 and is planning a force of three million if the war continues. Pershing also intends to make sure his units will fight as a separate force and not be split into small units and placed under French or British command.
1938 – Lieutenant C. B. Olsen became the first Coast Guardsman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He earned the award for “heroism in removing Lieutenant Colonel Gullion, U.S. Army, who was stricken with acute appendicitis, from the Army transport ‘Republic.’”
1939 – Boatswain’s Mate First Class Clarence Samuels was appointed as a Chief Photographer’s Mate (Acting). Thus becoming the first African-American chief petty officer, the first African-American photographer in the Coast Guard and only the second Coast Guardsman to serve in that rating up to that point.
1942 – The U.S. tanker Virginia is torpedoed in the mouth of the Mississippi River by the German U-Boat U-507.
1943 – Admiral Ainsworth leads 4 cruisers and 7 destroyers in two groups to shell Vila and Munda. American ships lay more mines near New Georgia Island.
1943 – The Trident Conference. Roosevelt and Churchill meet to discuss strategy. The Americans seek a commitment to an invasion of western Europe. The British seek a commitment to an invasion of Italy and possibly the Balkans.
1944 – About 800 bombers of the US 8th Air Force, with a substantial fighter escort, attack synthetic oil plants at Leuna-Merseburg, Bohlen, Zeitz, Lutzkendorf and Brux (northwest of Prague). The Americans claim to shoot down 150 German fighters and report losses of 46 bombers and 10 fighters.
1944 – Allied attacks by forces of the US 5th Army make some progress against the German-held defenses. The French Expeditionary Corps (General Juin) encounters only the German 71st Division along its line and captures Monte Faito. The Polish 2nd Corps is held with heavy losses, north of Cassino. The British 13th Corps establishes two small bridgeheads over the Rapido River, opposite Cassino. The US 2nd Corps, on the western coast of the advance, experiences difficulty advancing.
1945 – On Okinawa, Japanese forces repulse an attack by elements of US 3rd Amphibious Corps at Sugar Loaf Hill, southeast of Amike. The position is an important point in the Japanese held Shuri Line. The US 1st Marine Division suffers heavy losses but captures most of Dakeshi Ridge. The US 77th Division advances slowly toward Shuri. The Japanese held Conical Hill position is fought over by US 96th Division. At sea, a Kamikaze plane strikes the USS New Mexico, causing considerable damage.
1945 – On Luzon, elements of the US 43rd Division, part of US 11th Corps, converge on Ipo, capturing several hill occupied by the Japanese. On Mindanao, Del Monte airfield is reached by elements of the US 40th Division. Other elements advance southwest of Tankulan. The US 123th Infantry Regiment eliminates the Japanese strongpoint in the Colgan woods after a lengthy air and artillery bombardment. American aircraft and artillery strike at suspected Japanese gun emplacements on Samar Island.
1945 – Elements of US 7th Army capture the Japanese ambassador to Germany, General Oshima, and 130 members of his staff.
1945 – The government orders a suspension of Lend-Lease shipments to the USSR.
1949 – An early crisis of the Cold War comes to an end when the Soviet Union lifts its 11-month blockade against West Berlin. The blockade had been broken by a massive U.S.-British airlift of vital supplies to West Berlin’s two million citizens. At the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four sectors administered by the four major Allied powers: the USSR, the United States, Britain, and France. Berlin, the German capital, was likewise divided into four sectors, even though it was located deep within the Soviet sector of eastern Germany. The future of Germany and Berlin was a major sticking point in postwar treaty talks, especially after the United States, Britain, and France sought to unite their occupation zones into a single economic zone. In March 1948, the Soviet Union quit the Allied Control Council governing occupied Germany over this issue. In May, the three Western powers agreed to the imminent formation of West Germany, a nation that would exist entirely independent of Soviet-occupied eastern Germany. The three western sectors of Berlin were united as West Berlin, which was to be under the administration of West Germany. On June 20, as a major step toward the establishment of a West German government, the Western powers introduced a new Deutsche mark in West Germany and West Berlin. The Soviets condemned this move as an attack on the East German currency and on June 24 began a blockade of all rail, road, and water communications between Berlin and the West. The four-power administration of Berlin had ceased with the unification of West Berlin, the Soviets said, and the Western powers no longer had a right to be there. With West Berlin’s food, fuel, and other necessities cut off, the Soviets reasoned, it would soon have to submit to Communist control. Britain and the United States responded by initiating the largest airlift in history, flying 278,288 relief missions to the city during the next 14 months, resulting in the delivery of 2,326,406 tons of supplies. As the Soviets had cut off power to West Berlin, coal accounted for over two-thirds of the material delivered. In the opposite direction, return flights transported West Berlin’s industrial exports to the West. Flights were made around the clock, and at the height of the Berlin airlift, in April 1949, planes were landing in the city every minute. Tensions were high during the airlift, and three groups of U.S. strategic bombers were sent as reinforcements to Britain while the Soviet army presence in eastern Germany increased dramatically. The Soviets made no major effort to disrupt the airlift. As a countermeasure against the Soviet blockade, the Western powers also launched a trade embargo against eastern Germany and other Soviet bloc countries. On May 12, 1949, the Soviets abandoned the blockade, and the first British and American convoys drove though 110 miles of Soviet Germany to reach West Berlin. On May 23, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was formally established. On October 7, the German Democratic Republic, a Communist state, was proclaimed in East Germany. The Berlin airlift continued until September 30, in an effort to build up a year’s supply of essential goods for West Berlin in the event of another Soviet blockade. Another blockade did not occur, but Cold War tensions over Berlin remained high, culminating in the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.
1951 – The 1st H Bomb test was on Eniwetok Atoll.
1952 – General Mark W. Clark succeeded General Matthew Ridgway as commander of U.N. forces. Ridgway replaced the retiring General Eisenhower as supreme commander of Allied Powers in Europe.
1957 – The CGC Wachusett, on Ocean Station NOVEMBER, halfway between Honolulu and San Francisco, rescued the two-man crew who had bailed out of a U.S. Air Force B-57 because of a fuel shortage.
1958 – A formal North American Aerospace Defense Command agreement is signed between the United States and Canada.
1961 – Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson meets with South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon during his tour of Asian countries. Calling Diem the “Churchill of Asia,” he encouraged the South Vietnamese president to view himself as indispensable to the United States and promised additional military aid to assist his government in fighting the communists. On his return home, Johnson echoed domino theorists, saying that the loss of Vietnam would compel the United States to fight “on the beaches of Waikiki” and eventually on “our own shores.” With the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Johnson became president and inherited a deteriorating situation in South Vietnam. Over time, he escalated the war, ultimately committing more than 500,000 U.S. troops to Vietnam.
1964 – Defense Secretary McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor visit Vietnam on their fifth fact-finding mission. While McNamara reiterates US support for South Vietnam, he also tells Khanh privately that, although the US does not rule out bombing the North, ‘we do not intend to provide military support nor undertake the military objective of rolling back Communist control in North Vietnam.’
1965 – The US Ambassador in Moscow, Foy Kholer, tries without success to get the North Vietnamese Embassy there to consider his message from Washington: the United States will suspend bombing of North Vietnam for several days in hope of reciprocal ‘constructive’ gestures–meant as a call for peace talks. This is known as Operation Mayflower. (All subsequent diplomatic moves will be codenamed for flowers.)
1968 – A second large-scale Communist offensive, that began on 5 may, reaches its climax. It began with the simultaneous shelling of 119 cities, towns and barracks. The principle target is Saigon, where the fighting quickly spread to Cholon, Tansonnhut airbase, and the Phutho racetrack. US jets drop napalm and high-explosive bombs to pound a Vietcong stronghold in a slum district around the Y bridge, preparing the way for an assault by US infantry.
1969 – Communist forces shell 159 cities, towns and military bases throughout South Vietnam, including Saigon and hue in the largest number of attacks since the 1968 Tet Offensive.
1969 – Viet Cong sappers tried unsuccessfully to overrun Landing Zone Snoopy in Vietnam.
1971 – The first major battle of Operation Lam Son 720 takes place as North Vietnamese forces hit the same South Vietnamese 500-man marine battalion twice in one day. Each time, the communists were pushed back after heavy fighting. Earlier, the South Vietnamese reportedly destroyed a North Vietnamese base camp and arms production facility in the A Shau Valley. On May 19, in a six-hour battle, South Vietnamese troops engaged the communists. Three Allied helicopters and a reconnaissance plane were downed by enemy ground fire. The fighting, air strikes, and artillery fire continued in the A Shau Valley through May 23; the South Vietnamese claimed the capture of more communist bunker networks and the destruction of large amounts of supplies and ammunition.
1975 – The American freighter Mayaguez is captured by communist government forces in Cambodia, setting off an international incident. The U.S. response to the affair indicated that the wounds of the Vietnam War still ran deep. On May 12, 1975, the U.S. freighter Mayaguez and its 39-man crew was captured by gunboats of the Cambodian navy. Cambodia had fallen to communist insurgents, the Khmer Rouge, in April 1973. The Cambodian authorities imprisoned the American crew, pending an investigation of the ship and why it had sailed into waters claimed by Cambodia. The response of the United States government was quick. President Gerald Ford called the Cambodian seizure of the Mayaguez an “act of piracy” and promised swift action to rescue the captured Americans. In part, Ford’s aggressive attitude to the incident was a by-product of the American failure in Vietnam. In January 1973, U.S. forces had withdrawn from South Vietnam, ending years of a bloody and inconclusive attempt to forestall communist rule of that nation. In the time since the U.S. withdrawal, a number of conservative politicians and intellectuals in the United States had begun to question America’s “credibility” in the international field, suggesting that the country’s loss of will in Vietnam now encouraged enemies around the world to challenge America with seeming impunity. The Cambodian seizure of the Mayaguez appeared to be just such a challenge. On May 14, President Ford ordered the bombing of the Cambodian port where the gunboats had come from and sent Marines to attack the island of Koh Tang, where the prisoners were being held. Unfortunately, the military action was probably unnecessary. The Cambodian government was already in the process of releasing the crew of the Mayaguez and the ship. Forty-one Americans died, most of them in an accidental explosion during the attack. Most Americans, however, cheered the action as evidence that the United States was once again willing to use military might to slap down potential enemies.
1986 – Destroyer USS David R. Ray deters an Iranian Navy attempt to board a U.S. merchant ship.
1998 – The UAE announced that it would buy 80 F-16s from the US for about $7 billion.
1999 – NATO continued airstrikes for the 50th day of its campaign against Yugoslavia. 327 strike missions were flown. Pres. Milosevic acknowledged that his military had suffered casualties.
1999 – Iraqi armed forces said that US and British warplanes had killed 12 civilians in the Nineveh province.
2002 – US forces in Afghanistan killed 5 enemy fighters and captured 32 during a raid at Deh Rawod, north of Kandahar. US air strikes at Char Chine, killed 5 civilians.
2002 – Former US President Jimmy Carter arrives in Cuba for a five-day visit with Fidel Castro becoming the first President of the United States, in or out of office, to visit the island since Castro’s 1959 revolution.
2003 – L. Paul Bremer, the new American civilian administrator, took over the task of piecing Iraq together. He replaced retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner.
2003 – US officials said Rihab Rashid Taha, called “Dr. Germ” for her work with germ warfare agents, was reported to be in coalition custody. Ibrahim Ahmad Abd al Sattar Muhammad, No. 11 on the most-wanted list, was also reported in custody.
2003 – North Korea declared that the 1992 agreement with South Korea to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons was nullified, citing a “sinister” U.S. agenda.
2003 – In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, multiple, simultaneous car bombings at 3 foreign compounds killed 30 people, including 8 Americans and 9 suicide bombers. The next day Saudi authorities linked Khaled Jehani (29) head of a 19-member al-Qaida team to the carnage. Ali Abd al-Rahman al-Faqasi al-Ghamdi, a senior al Qaeda figure, surrendered Jun 26. On Jan 8, 2004, 8 accomplices were arrested in Switzerland.
2003 – Homeland Security Department launches TopOff II, a week-long national training exercise for emergency prepardness and response.
2004 – In Iraq US soldiers backed by tanks and helicopters battled fighters loyal to a radical cleric near a mosque in Karbala, hours after Iraqi leaders agreed on a proposal that would end his standoff. As many as 25 insurgents were killed.
2005 – A United States Senate probe releases evidence showing two prominent British and French politicians received vouchers for millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in exchange for their support of Saddam Hussein’s regime. George Galloway is accused of using the Mariam Appeal, the children’s leukemia charity he founded, to conceal the transfer of 3 million barrels of oil, although he denies any wrongdoing.
2006 – The U.S. FBI raids the home of Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, outgoing number three man at the CIA, in an investigation into political corruption, including the use of prostitutes and bribery in connection with lobbyist Brent Wilkes, revealed to be the “no. 1 unindicted co-conspirator” in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal. Foggo was convicted of honest services fraud in the awarding of a government contract and sentenced to 37 months in the federal prison at Pine Knot, Kentucky.
2007 – U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) killed Mullah Dadullah, a notorious Taliban commander in charge of leading operations in the south of the country; eleven other Taliban fighters were killed in the same firefight.
2008 – Basra “residents overwhelmingly reported a substantial improvement in their everyday lives” according to the New York Times. “Government forces have now taken over Islamic militants’ headquarters and halted the death squads and ‘vice enforcers’ who attacked women, Christians, musicians, alcohol sellers and anyone suspected of collaborating with Westerners”, according to the report; however, when asked how long it would take for lawlessness to resume if the Iraqi army left, one resident replied, “one day”.

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